Jurgen Klinsmann values having players playing at the highest levels in Europe and competing in the UEFA Champions League, so it couldn’t have been an easy decision for him to dismiss Fabian Johnson from the U.S. Men’s National Team last week.
It may have been a tough decision, but it was the right one.
Klinsmann sent Johnson packing and back to Borussia Moenchengladbach early last week after the veteran fullback asked out of the U.S.’s CONCACAF Cup defeat the Saturday prior in extra time. Johnson exited that 3-2 loss vs. Mexico in the 111th minute after asking to be substituted, but exact details as to what happened remain a bit murky.
Here is what we do know: Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer said that Johnson had no injury, and Klinsmann sent the 27-year-old fullback home so he could “rethink” his approach to the team. Johnson’s club then stated immediately upon his return that he was being treated for an injury to his thigh. That injury didn’t stop Johnson starting this past weekend in German Bundesliga action,
Not only did Johnson start, he played the full 90 minutes on Saturday vs. Eintracht Frankfurt, all but confirming that he was not injured at the time of his substitution. At least not seriously enough to warrant coming out of a game as important as the CONCACAF Cup was.
That is why Klinsmann’s decision to boot Johnson from the squad was the correct one, especially since teammates were reportedly unhappy about Johnson’s unwillingness to fight until the very end.
Some might argue that Johnson was doing the right thing. That asking to come out of a game because he was fatigued or feeling a slight pull was selfless and a matter of putting the team before himself.
If this were basketball or the other football, sure, that might hold some weight. Soccer, however, has a limited amount of substitutions and Johnson surely was not the only one pushing through pain, discomfort, and exhaustion in the latter moments of that game. In fact, Michael Bradley missed Toronto FC’s 2-1 win vs. the New York Red Bulls last Wednesday because of a groin injury that he reportedly picked up in the loss to Mexico.
Why then would Moenchengladbach and interim manager Andre Schubert say he had an injury? As Klinsmann pointed out, it was a move the club made to stick by and publicly defend its player. Some fans may suggest that Johnson had enough time to receive treatment and recover over the course of the week to get back to full health, but that would indicate that Johnson’s knock was not all that serious to begin with.
Schubert even more or less admitted that Johnson was not too badly hurt when speaking to the press last week.
“When a player feels a tightening of their thigh in added time in a game and could then be on the verge of a more serious injury, I only think it’s the responsibility of the team and himself to have him subbed off,” Schubert said on Thursday.
So if Johnson was not dealing with a serious injury, how then can he or anyone else rationalize his decision to come off vs. Mexico? Sure, he might have gotten more badly hurt had he played through those final nine minutes, but he also might not have.
Johnson’s actions, which have ignited much debate in the media and among fans, now raise the question of whether he is fully committed to the U.S. or if he is more or less a mercenary who is only representing the Americans in order to further his career by playing international soccer.
If he isn’t all that invested in the U.S. team, and more worried about being available to play for UEFA Champions League participant Borussia Moenchenglabdach, that is Johnson’s right, but should Klinsmann and the U.S. really consider him for future call-ups then? Yes, Johnson is undoubtedly one of the most talented and versatile players in the U.S. pool, but his inclusion should not come at the expense of dedication. That is not what playing for your country is about.
Klinsmann has left the door open for Johnson to return, but whether he does remains to be seen. Losing one of your best players is, of course, not ideal, but Klinsmann made a good decision by dismissing Johnson for his half-hearted approach.